Occupational Therapists

Occupational Therapist - District of Timiskaming

Patrick, who recently turned 33, has a degree in history from the University of Ottawa and a degree in psychology from Carleton University. He then turned his attention to occupational therapy and completed one year of the four-year occupational therapy program at the University of Ottawa; he then transferred to the 26-month program at the University of Toronto. Currently he works in a community care access centre (CCAC) in the northern part of the district of Timiskaming, working with adults and older adults in their homes to help them regain their skills.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become an occupational therapist? How did you become an occupational therapist?
Actually, I came across the field of occupational therapy (OT) quite by accident. I was finishing up a degree in psychology and was debating what to do next when someone suggested that I explore the field of OT. Until then I had no idea that OT existed. Once I looked into what OT was, I discovered that it not only suited my previous university education (I had a psychology background), but I also realized that it would provide me with an interesting challenge. That challenge is based on the fact that people working in the field are overwhelmingly (I would say 95%) female. Being a male, I knew that learning to work within this new occupational environment would be an interesting challenge for me.

As for how I became an occupational therapist, I realize now that simply growing up with my eyes open to new opportunities helped me become a better OT. This is because we deal with people who are having difficulty with some activity in their lives, and having a wide range of experiences, such as participating in sports, volunteering, working in a variety of summer jobs, helped to give me a diverse range of experiences, which I can draw upon each and every day. But more to the point, I applied to a number of OT schools across Canada, and it took me a total of three years to finally get into the University of Toronto. After that it was a 26-month long program, which I completed last November.

Stephanie: What do you like about what you do?
I enjoy three main aspects about being an OT:
1. Job security and job flexibility: There is a great need for OTs, and everyone who wants a job will get one. And if you find that one area of OT is not for you, you can easily change into another area of OT.
2. Being a professional: People look up to you and respect your opinion. Plus it's nice being able to help people get back on their feet.
3. Weekends and nights off: It's a very nice bonus. No need to work overtime or on weekends - and you get paid well.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
It's tough to explain. In a nutshell, OTs are taught to see a person first and not their disability and to treat based upon a client-centred approach, but our current health care system, largely based on what is called a medical model, sees a person's disability first and the person with that disability second. OTs have to work within this medical model environment and it can be tough to get other health care professionals, doctors for example, to look past the person's diagnosis to the person themselves.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming an occupational therapist?
Mainly three points:
1. Work at developing a balanced lifestyle. Have time for work, fun and study. They may not always be equally divided, but never neglect any of them.
2. Volunteer at a location where there is an occupational therapist working. I did that and got to know a little bit about the profession before I hit the OT program. Plus, do some volunteering in an area away from OT, like a day care centre or a seniors' residence. Almost anywhere - it will give you a sense of what different people are going through at different stages of their lives.
3. Learn the value of networking. It is a skill that can be learned. This will not only help you during your career, but you will be able to hear of better job opportunities, you might get a higher salary, and you will meet lots of people and make lots of friends in the process.

Best of luck to you all. Just remember (and I know it's corny) that life is all about the journey and not about the destination.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be an occupational therapist?
Until the year 2010, OT graduates only need to have a bachelor of science degree. After that date, they'll have to have a master's degree to work as an OT in Canada.

What I would suggest to students today is to work towards another degree in arts, science, commerce, etc., aim to do well (B+ or better) and then apply to an OT program. The undergraduate degree will be a great time to pick up some volunteer experience, plus some university study habits. (In my experience, most high school study habits will only get you a C-to-C+ average).

Stephanie: What kind of education did you get?
I took my time going through university getting two degrees (one in history, one in psychology) before I hit OT. I find that both of then come in handy as I work as an OT.

I did my first undergrad degree over a period of six years. I followed that degree with my psychology degree and I took a total of four years to finish that. These years do not include my very first year of school in biochemistry. My post-secondary education did not follow a smooth linear progression, rather one of a repeating spiral, where I was able to revisit and consolidate my previous learning opportunities. This actually allowed me to learn how to learn, which helps me out tremendously in my current line of work.

Stephanie: What is your favourite colour?
Well honestly, I don't think of colour schemes all that much. However, I would have to say that both navy blue and forest green would tie for my favorite colours.

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